Origins of the American Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day in the United States is today is a feast day set apart to thank God for all blessings and to celebrate the bounteous harvest. It is also a day to be home with family and friends, and is more of a secular holiday today than the religious holiday it was intended to be.

On this day one feasts on traditional Thanksgiving foods including a turkey, one rests from usual labors, perhaps one watches a football game or a parade on TV, or tosses a football among buddies. Women rest up from cooking the huge meal to prepare to shop the sales on Friday, a traditional pre-Christmas shopping bonanza.

Thanksgiving Day is celebrated every year on the fourth Thursday in November, and in Canada on the 2nd Monday in October.

The Netherlands

Many of the English Pilgrims who would end up at the Plymouth Plantation had first taken refuge in The Netherlands where they lived and worked for eleven years between 1609 and 1620 prior to emigration to Plymouth Plantation, Massachusetts.

The English Separatists would find a more liberal mindset with regards to religious tolerance in Holland where they took refuge. Holland had experienced a history of non-tolerance by foreign rule and had become a destination for those seeking religious freedom. The puritanical pilgrims became more tolerant of the beliefs of others in Holland where several religious groups coexisted peacefully. When they arrived in Massachusetts, they had the seeds of tolerance in their treatment of other groups.

To commemorate the pilgrim’s stay, Thanksgiving Day service is held each year on the morning of the American Thanksgiving Day in the Pieterskerk church in Leiden which is the area where many of the pilgrims resided prior to coming to Massachusetts.

Some of the pilgrims may have witnessed the annual day of Thanksgiving in Leiden which celebrated the relief of the siege of Leiden in 1574. The siege had been an unsuccessful attempt by the Spanish during the Eighty Years’ War to coerce the rebellious Dutch under their control.

It took ten years to transport the Leiden pilgrims to America, as their ship, the Speedwell, was found not to be seaworthy.

Native American Harvest Feasts

Various First Nations in Canada and America’s Native Americans held traditional celebrations of giving thanks for the harvest. Some of these tribes included the Pueblo, Cherokee, Cree, who for centuries before the arrival of Europeans in North America organized harvest festivals and ceremonial dances giving thanks

Earliest European-American Thanksgiving Holidays

Earlier days of Thanksgiving occurred in Canada in 1578, and by Spanish explorers in Florida in 1565, and codified as an annual celebration in Virginia in 1619. Americans, however, generally celebrate the Thanksgiving that took place on Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts in 1621.

Thanksgiving of 1621

While the Pilgrims had intended to reach Northern Virginia in the Mayflower, they were blown off course and arrived at Plymouth Rock Massachusetts on December 11, 1620.

The Native American, Squanto, is said to have taught the pilgrims to grow corns, beans and pumpkins.

During the summer of 1621, a day of prayer and fasting took place to save the corn crops that had been planted by the pilgrims with the help of the Native Americans. Rain did come and the crops were saved.

The First Feast

The fare for the Pilgrims’ and Wampanoag Native Americans thanksgiving communal feast in 1621 might have included, ducks, geese, venison, fish, shellfish, corn, beans, boiled pumpkin, and other vegetables, and berries. A shortage of flour would have excluded bread, but beer would have been available. .

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